Washington Bullets guard Darrell Walker will be out three weeks with a strained medial collateral ligament of his right knee suffered in Thursday's 107-98 victory over the Knicks -- a player loss that, while significant, will be for about as short a period as the Bullets could have hoped.

Walker, who was placed on the injured list, will be in a brace during that time. There appeared to be no tear of the ligament, and Bullets physician Steve Haas said in a statement that he was encouraged by the examination.

"I thought it was just bruised," Walker said. "I'm just going to start rehabbing. Who knows? I hope it's not any longer."

With a roster spot open, the Bullets could have activated forward John Williams last night. But Washington decided against it, and that leaves Williams to wait until the all-star break.

Until the Bullets do something, it also leaves Washington with eight healthy players.

Guard Haywoode Workman left last night's loss to Detroit in the first half with a groin pull. Mark Alarie didn't play last night and may not play against Boston Sunday, and Ledell Eackles missed last night's game with the flu.

The club maintained that it wants to run Williams through a series of practices, which the schedule doesn't allow for at present, before activating him. And that timetable isn't enhanced by Walker's injury.

"One doesn't have anything to do with the other," Coach Wes Unseld said. "We weren't holding John because of a roster spot; we are holding John out until he's ready to play."

The Bullets had a little better news on Alarie, who was hit just under his right eye by teammate Charles Jones in the first half Thursday in New York. The white of the eye was lacerated, and Alarie was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital.

Alarie, who was sporting a major black eye when the team returned early yesterday, was examined by optometrist Martin Kolsky. And while Alarie couldn't play last night, he at least has a chance to play Sunday in Boston.

But, he said from his home last night, "the doctor said it probably wouldn't be a good idea. He needs to look at it again on Monday. . . . The eye is really swollen. The worry is that there's swelling on my retina, which is unusual. But they can't see a tear."

Alarie had no idea what happened to him. "If I had seen it coming, I would have gotten out of the way," he said.

The timing was especially unfortunate for Alarie because he had started to play his best basketball of the season over the last couple of weeks. And he had worked his way into the rotation after getting sporadic minutes the first two months of the season.

The absence of Walker will be felt first in rebounding, as he leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per game. His presence underneath allowed Workman to release early, starting the transitions that have been at the heart of Washington's offensive success.

Ironically, it gives Eackles a chance to get out of the Bullets' doghouse if he can recover quickly from the flu. He had been replaced by A.J. English in the rotation before Walker went down. But with little choice, the Bullets started Eackles in the second half Thursday, and had him slated to start last night too.

"I think they tried to rest me" Thursday, he said. "It's a chance I wanted. I've got to capitalize on it, just like I did when Jeff {Malone} got hurt last year. It's a real different ballgame when you know you're going to start. You come into it differently."

Last season Eackles started eight games, averaging 25.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in those appearances. That was cited by Eackles and his agent in negotiating with the Bullets last summer, but Washington didn't buy it and Eackles held out.

That holdout has forced Eackles to play catchup all season, and he's struggled mightily.

"I don't feel any different about Ledell," Unseld said. "I liked Ledell two days ago, I like him now. What we can get from him, what he does on the court, will determine how long he's out there. That hasn't changed."